Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Little More Personal and a Little Less Finance

I've been talking to some of my friends about a particular issue in my life and I figured it was time to "take it to the blog." It has to do with homeowner stress. It also has to do with learning how to give myself a break.

I have this strong urge to make my home perfect. This is true to some degree at the cabin, but by far it is predominately focused on the house. When I am home I find myself constantly noticing things that need to be done. Some of it is home improvement projects like repairing the broken board on the porch or fixing the fence. Others are more decorative like hanging artwork and moving furniture, while still others have to do with organization such as cleaning out the basement and the garage and finally clearing out all the boxes in the spare bedroom. Some of them are big like repainting the house, while others are small like organizing my DVDs. My friend Catie and I have a nickname these, we call them Noxious Toadstools. They are these little projects that pop up during the night that you know you should do - but for whatever reason, you don't. So they sit there poisoning your vision because every single time you walk by them you get a little zap of guilt. Dirty dishes in the sink, a loose toilet seat, that bag of clothes for Goodwill that is gathering dust in the corner - these are all noxious toadstools.

I have found since moving in the house I have been on a mission to eliminate all noxious toadstools from my life big and small. I want everything arranged, put away, fixed and organized. I suppose the goal is admirable, but the stress I've been putting myself under is not.

Don't get me wrong, I know it is impossible for any normal human being not to have a few noxious toadstools hanging about. There are only a limited number of hours in a day and I am just one person... who just happens to be working a full time job, trying to create a variety of income streams, writing a blog, going back to school, serving on the executive board of a nonprofit organization, maintaining two properties, and who occasionally wants to see her friends and family. Even if I took a week off of work I couldn't get everything done. Although naturally, that doesn't stop me from stressing about it!

I think I get some of it from my childhood. Growing up I saw my parents always working on the house. Each year it seemed that my mom tackled some project or another - new wallpaper for the bathroom this year, new landscaping the next - there was always something going on. That isn't to say that I lived in a construction zone, most of these projects only took a weekend, but I was constantly aware of the effort my parents, (my mother in particular,) took in keeping up the house. It was a source of pride for her and it was obvious that she felt that our home was a reflection on who she was.

..and it is true, your home is a reflection of yourself. We fill our homes with our favorite things, paint the rooms our favorite colors and display the things that mean the most to us there. So what does it say about me that the porch needs fixing, the artwork isn't hung, the lawn needs mowing? It probably tells the truth: here is the home of someone in transition, a person trying desperately to keep all the plates in the air, but not always making it. I recognize the truth of myself in my house - and I hate it. I want everything to be okay, to be fine. I am like the little girl in the dark, eyes squeezed closed, rocking back and forth and muttering "I am not afraid. I am not afraid..." Except in my case my muttering is "Everything is fine. I can handle this. Everything is fine..."

Adding to the stress is the fact that many of these projects require money and that is something I just don't have. I was talking with a friend about all of this recently. He generously offered to help me with any home improvement project I want. I had to tell him that it wasn't a lack of help that was stopping me - I have an amazing network of friends who have offered their time and the sweat off their brow - but who is going to pay for it? Who's going to buy the lumber, the paint, the tile? Seeing the crumbling paint on my home every day reminds me of my financial situation. I can't get away from that.

Yet, some of these projects date back to when my ex and I bought the house. The porch has had that same broken board since the day we signed the papers. The house has needed painting for a couple years. Why now? Why do these things get to me now, when they didn't bother me all that much before? One reason is an emotion I am not particularly proud of - spite. I try very hard not to talk ill of my ex in this blog since I think that kind of thing only leads to bad blood. I will confess though that there is a part of me that strongly resents him dumping this house on me - especially since we had an agreement that he would take it. I've accepted the situation and more than that, there is a part of me that wants to rise to the occasion. I want to show not only him, but everyone else, that I won't be knocked down - and more than that - that I can do it better. It's completely petty I know, and I don't like that I feel this way, but I can't help it.

When it comes to simple household things, not the home improvement projects, but the day to day things - the weeds in the garden, the bathroom that needs cleaning, the file cabinet I need to move into my office - these noxious toadstools are a bit of a conundrum to me. I know that doing them will make me feel better. I believe they are projects worth doing. I know they won't take me all that long to do. ...and yet, I walk right on by them while at the same time beating myself up for not doing them. It's a noxious toadstool death cycle!

So what to do with all this? I've only been in the house three months and already I find myself adding unnecessary stress to myself, but not knowing how to stop.

And that is why I have a therapist - to help me get through all of these things and emotions I am dealing with after the divorce. So I talked with her and she gave me a tool that has been very helpful. She told me to ask myself why I'm not doing something. Then either honor that reason or do whatever needs to be done. The important thing is to stop the death cycle of stress.

So, when I come home at night and I see light blue flakes of paint on the driveway and I feel my blood pressure starting rise, simply ask myself why I haven't painted the house? Because I can't afford it. Okay, that is what it is. Accept that it is the reality for now and move on - getting upset about it isn't going to get the house scraped any sooner. Another good example was a chair that I had upstairs that I wanted to put downstairs. I kept looking at the spot in the room and thinking about how I should get off my duff and move that chair. The night after talking with my therapist I found myself looking at that spot as I felt my hands starting to clench I thought, "Okay, why haven't I moved that chair down here?" Answer: because I was bone tired, it had been a long day at work and then I spent a couple hours helping my mother with some projects which were mentally exhausting. It kind of hit me then - instead of beating myself up, I should feel some pride in the work I did that day. Being bone tired from hard work is an honest emotion. The next night as I looked in that same spot, I realized I wasn't tired, my day had been fairly easy. My answer to why I didn't move the chair? A bratty "I don't waaaaaaaant to." Then I had two choices, I could accept that I didn't want to and stop beating myself up for not doing it, or I could get up and do it, and then it would be done. Either way would break the cycle that I was in.

I moved the chair.

(Of course now I want to paint it.)

The truth is, there is only so much a person can do. I know this and accept it, but I find myself holding myself to a much higher standard than I do anyone else. If my sister's faucet drips I don't think badly of her, but if mine were dripping I get all stressed about it. This is something I am really working on. I am trying to let things go and understand that the only thing making me feel bad is my own neurosis.

I know that no matter what there will always be noxious toadstools, they are a part of life. My goal is working on find ways to live with them so they are more like colorful mushrooms.

Photo by: tdaonp

No comments: